Longitudinal Changes in Young Children’s Strategy Use for Emotion Regulation

K. Ashana Ratcliff, Lauren C. Vazquez, Erika S. Lunkenheimer, Pamela M. Cole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The development of strategies that support autonomous self-regulation of emotion is key for early childhood emotion regulation. Children are thought to transition from predominant reliance on more automatic or interpersonal strategies to reliance on more effortful, autonomous strategies as they develop cognitive skills that can be recruited for self-regulation. However, there are few longitudinal studies documenting age-related changes in different forms and dimensions of strategies. The current study tested predicted agerelatedchanges in strategy use in a task requiring children to wait for something they want. Specifically, we examined the longitudinal trajectories of 3 strategies commonly observed in delayed reward tasks: selfsoothing, seeking attention about the demands of waiting (bids), and distracting oneself. We followed a sample of 120 children (54% male, 93.3% white, from semirural and rural economically strained households) from ages 24 months to 5 years who participated in a waiting task each year. Using growth curve modeling, we found declines in self-soothing, rises and then declines in bidding, and increases in distraction from 24 months to 5 years. Next, we investigated whether strategy use trajectories predicted adult ratings of children’s emotion regulation during the task, that is, whether children appeared calm and acted appropriately while waiting. Growth in duration and dominance of distraction use predicted judgments thatchildren were well-regulated by age 5 years, whereas growth in dominance of bidding use negatively predicted being rated as well-regulated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1471-1486
Number of pages16
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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